Saturday, April 09, 2005


Hey Robb,

Can you help out with this one?
perhaps you could tell me how exactly a rule about nature could be a priori
(Direction of a provisional answer I might give: I guess it depends what you mean by nature. See the early sections of the Prolegomena, where, if I remember right, nature is glossed as a way that our experiences can be synthesized into a knowable, rule-governed whole. I will check and report back on this. (One might also politely suggest that knowledge of nature is, if it counts as knowledge, backed up by reasons, which rattus rattus might not be in the position to give. Rattus rattus can make do with statistically constant conjunctions, but Reason demands more. And R.Eason demands more.))

(Does Sellars care about Kant's thoughts on how the mind can have scientific knowledge (in the weighty, Stoical sense) of nature? Is he only concerned with Kant's views on perception? (I would tend to think that these latter would be unintelligible if one didn't keep in view Reason's (and R.Eason's) goal of systematic knowledge of nature.))

If you go here and scroll down, you'll find the original question in full.

Thanks, Robb!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will give it a cheap shot: Kant was implying that in the perception--or inference--there is something (which forms the perception itself) which is not the events perceived; the rational mind draws an inference or sees a relationship in experience, but the perception--cause to event--is predicated on a preexisting rational structure (perhaps a conditional or other logical-mathematical connective)
which is itself not in the experience of nature. (I am following Russell's ideas on the existence of universals a bit here). The synthetic AP thus is comprised of, or takes part in these a priori universals--logical connectives, relationships, and mathematics itself--and these are, at least, to the sane human being, somewhat innate, if not independent of the individual mind. But that does seem to make the synthetic AP a bit more like the analytic AP. Oh well.

Is the synthetic AP thus a mind, if not soul? Perhaps. I don't think there are any decent arguments for the immateriality of mind or for universals (or the synthetic AP), so I would ask first if this is an accurate depiction of the syn. AP and whether that implies immateriality as well. I still think behaviorist--or perhaps genetic--accounts would suffice to explain how we form our perceptions, and any "innateness"
would have to be interpreted as the hard wiring of the brain (not mind). If we don't accept innateness as material--i.e., that the math and logic functions are "realized" biochemically--then we might as well return to Aquinas if not Plato....

4/09/2005 3:01 PM  
Anonymous R.Eason said...

Dear Fort Kant,

It seems to me that there is some ambiguity in the question which runs: “Perhaps you could tell me how exactly a rule about nature could be a prior?” To what or to whom are we ascribing or attributing such a rule? Rattus rattus is a smart little fellow with teeth that rate a 5.5 on the ‘international hardness index’ (as opposed to iron, which rates a measly 4.0). But, Rattus rattus does not have what Kant means by knowledge of nature. By ‘nature,’ at least with regards to metaphysics, Kant means that which we know through experience. For Kant, characterizing experience entails providing a story about synthetic a priori judgments. Indeed, as a good comic book version of the Kantian story goes, without such judgments our experience of nature would be impossible. And, I think that you’re absolutely correct to, for instance, call into questions Sellars’s commitment to understanding Kant’s larger picture. For Sellars, I think, Kant is interesting only insofar as he provides us with *some* of the necessary insights into how we have knowledge of empirical objects. (See especially the first chapter of Sellars’s “Science and Metaphyics” where Sellars, ala Strawson, tries to, as it were, improve upon Kant’s insights) But, as I think you suggest, such a concern is only an aspect, a smallish corner of Kant’s greater concern, namely a concern about how it is that we have a world, how we are related to a world. Systematic knowledge of nature in Kant’s sense is something, I think, that very few of those people working outside of the sub-discipline of the history of philosophy care much about at all. But to be sure it is the systematicity of such knowledge, and questions surrounding its legitimacy, that drove philosophy beyond the bounds of Fort Kant and into the wilds of German Idealism.

One final note on Sellars. Rattus ratttus has, I think, for Sellars, a good bit of the necessary equipment to be a knower of its world. For Sellars statistically constant conjunctions, being able to form reliable dispositional response mechanisms to its environment is necessary to the formation of knowledge. But truly rational perception, and what that might entail goes beyond pasting an account of how the members of the community of even NIMH would go about evaluating each others’ assertions. A story about reason’s systematic knowledge of nature as such would be necessary. What Sellars, and I think Sellarsians more generally risk is underwriting a Kantian theory of perception while missing its original place in Kant’s thought. Kant, in his later work, was unable to maintain, for instance, the strict division between sensibility and the understanding, between receptivity and spontaneity. Kant himself was compelled to restructure his theory of perception under the weight of this goal of reason’s systematic knowledge of nature, was forced to tear apart the picture offered to us in the Critique of Pure Reason.

San Narciso

4/11/2005 5:00 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

Thank you, R.Eason. I think I agree with your remarks on Kant and Sellars, and I am especially intrigued by your suggestions about Kant's later work. I don't know exactly what you have in mind, but I've felt for the last few years that KdU is where things really get weird and interesting, and where the philosophical vocabulary Kant had been developing starts--almost on its own--to say things that the earlier Kant hadn't intended. I also think that the move toward the greater concern with logical form in the B edition also suggests a move away from the idea that the contributions of receptivity can be isolated from judgments; insofar as it makes sense to speak of intuitions as a part of our experience (as opposed to as a posits quasi-scientific picture), these intuitions already have a logical form that allows them to be fitted into judgments. The form of judgment is epistemologically prior. (This is the sort of thing that Brandom wants to connect to Fregean views of concepts as ways of decomposing judgments, where the form of judgment must remain in view if "concept" is to have any sense.) I am obviously way out of my league here. (It would be an interesting DoubleDare challenge to try to read, say, the A deduction as being concerned with intuitions, syntheses, etc. in the same logico-formal sense that prioritizes judgments, rather than as a piece of quasi-givenist phenomenology.) Please tell me more about what later Kant you have in mind.


4/11/2005 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That sounds rather profound but sort of ducks the issue of what the synthetic AP really IS. I am also out of my league a bit too, or at least a dilletante in terms of having mastered the jargon of the professional metaphysician, but the issue seems about ontology as well as epistemology. Let's assume there is a priori knowledge--shall we call that innateness? If it is innateness, are Kantians claiming this innateness is not a property of the brain, but of some metaphysical substance?

I think, tho I am not sure, that Kant is claiming it is not a property of matter, or it's at least noumenal rather than physical. Or can we read the SAP as still valid from a purely physicalist POV.
Nonetheless, even assuming a physicalism it seems quite debatable that a rule about nature--"every event has a cause"--should be termed a priori. That rule may partake or depend to some degree upon a priori knowledge ( a conditional perhaps?), but it also depends on the perceptions and sensations being described or related. No?
And the rules, inferences, connectives, equations are obviously learned or "triggered" as Chomsky might say. A child does not know about causality in general or particular; he forms rules as he gains experience. He sees an output and, curious, sticks his spoon end into it: Ouch. That act led to a nasty shock and he won't do it again. And rattus rattus does the same on a smaller scale. If rules are mostly a matter of conditioning--learning the right course of action in certain environments--then the rat and the child are not so far apart.

4/12/2005 1:03 AM  
Anonymous R.Eason said...

Dear Fort Kant,

Let us be clear about one thing. Kant is not talking about innate ideas. He is very careful to distance himself from, for instance, Descartes’ language of innate ideas of the mind. Rather, Kant uses juridical language of “original acquisition” to talk of the way in which we have the a priori concepts of space and time. These concepts, claims Kant, do not, as the learned behavior model goes, form out of experience, but are rather, Kant insists, “independent of experience.” I encourage the anonymous reader of Fort Kant to grab a copy of this frightening text and to read Chapter II of the Analytic of Concepts – “The Deduction of the Pure Concepts of the Understanding.” Read sections 13 through 26. Keep in mind that Kant is not giving us “rules about nature” in the sense of underwriting physics with another set of rules. Rather, and this is where the remark about it seeming as though Kant’s project is ontological as well as epistemological makes quite good sense, Kant’s project is a critical metaphysics – he does not distinguish between epistemology and ontology – wherein he is attempting to give an account of what must be true of the subject such that we can have the experience of a world that we in fact do have. Kant is not giving us an empirical psychology, he is not talking about what must be true of the brain. He is giving us a “Transcendental Logic,” demarcating the logical rules of experience. He is trying to give an account of what must be true of knowing subjects such that experience is possible. For why the example about sticking a spoon into an output is off the mark, read the following passage on Locke at B119:

“[A]n investigation of the first strivings of our faculty of knowledge, whereby it advances from particular perceptions to universal concepts, is undoubtedly of great service. We are indebted to the celebrated Locke for opening this new line of enquiry. But a *deduction* of the pure *a priori* concepts can never be obtained in this manner; it is not to be looked for in any such direction. For in view of their subsequent employment, which has to be entirely independent of experience, they must be in a position to show a certificate of birth quite other than that of descent from experiences.”

Neither Kant, nor I, am trying to be profound in suggesting that the empiricist model of concept acquisition is unsatisfactory for the kind of subjects that we are. Rather, Kant claims to have good reasons why, say, David Hume’s skeptical “solution” to metaphysical problems is inadequate – see Kant on Hume at B 127. Kant is not a sort of proto-Chomsky. To assume that would be to miss the point of his project. Though, to be sure, I am sure that Kant would find Chomsky interesting. Kant would probably suggest to Chomsky that he read his [Kant’s] “Anthropology” wherein he discusses matters of physiology and how they are related to a subject’s developmental psychology.

X-member of the Paranoids.

4/12/2005 10:01 AM  

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